By Jeong Nam-ku, Tokyo correspondent
Kenji Fujimoto, former chef to Kim Jong-il, returned to Beijing on August 4 from a two-week trip to North Korea.
Fujimoto (not his real name) worked as personal cook for the family of the North Korean leader from the 1980s until his escape from the country in 2001. He returned to North Korea on July 21 at the invitation of current leader Kim Jong-un and stayed for two weeks.
Meeting with Japanese reporters in Beijing, Fujimoto said the younger Kim had “grown tremendously as a person” and told him he was “always welcome whenever I visited North Korea.”
The cook said his welcome reception in Pyongyang was attended by around twenty people, including Kim and wife Ri Sol-ju. During the festivities, Kim embraced him and called him by his real name, he reported.
Fujimoto said Ri was “pretty and very charming.” He added that he saw Kim’s younger sister Yo-jong at the reception, but not older brother Jong-chol.
When asked whether they had discussed issues of North Korea-Japan relations, including the matter of abductions of Japanese nationals, Fujimoto said, “We didn’t go into political things.”
He also said he brought tuna with him on the North Korea trip to prepare a special dish for Kim and the others. Tuna is a “luxury item” that Japan prohibits for North Korean export, but the cook passed customs without any special item inspection because the officials did not recognize his real name, he explained.
Fujimoto was also reunited with family members in North Korea. He married a folk singer while there in the past, and is known to have a son and daughter living in the country.
The Mainichi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, interpreted the goal of the invitation and reception as twofold: communicating the new Kim regime’s openness to the international community, and encouraging Fujimoto to keep quiet on the things he knows about the family.
Pyongyang sent the invitation in mid-June via a pro-North Korean Korean-Japanese businessperson, sources reported. Fujimoto is said to have welcomed the invitation, but expressed concern he might be punished if he returned to the country.
After escaping North Korea, Fujimoto published a book called “Kim Jong-il’s Chef.” In it, he praised Kim Jong-un as having “leadership.”
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